According to the Washington Post, JPMorgan Chase has agreed to pay $153.6 million in civil damages over “misleading investors” with regard to mortgage securities. This comes after Goldman Sachs was fined $550 million by the Securities Exchange Commission almost a year ago for the same crimes.
These numbers may seem large to us. To these firms, however, it is only small change. JPMorgan Chase’s fine amounts to less than one percent of the company’s annual $17.4 billion net income – less than a week’s earnings. Likewise, the Goldman settlement accounted for less than five percent of that company’s $12.2 billion annual income. Hundreds of millions of dollars in fines may seem like a life sentence for any of us, but it is only a slap on the wrist for these companies. Their crimes have hurt far more people than most criminals ever have. How is a penalty to your company for practically destroying the U.S. economy punishment for you when it is distributed among all of the company’s employees in the form of lower stock value? None of these men will face jail time – their lawyers are too good, and they have many friends in the SEC and Treasury departments. They will retire with a reprimand in their files and a pat on their backs for helping the company to steal the billions of dollars that were not recouped.
Corruption on Wall Street was responsible for the financial collapse, at least in part. It is difficult to tell how extensive the crimes of fraud and insider trading were, but it seems obvious that more occurred than was successfully brought to light by the SEC. We must remember that these criminals tend to be very intelligent, and for that reason it is likely they accomplished their crimes before without being caught. It is wrong to automatically find fault with intellectuals, but when they have proven to be unscrupulous, there is reason to suspect that more lay undiscovered. We must be ever-wary of these institutions; ultimately, their mission is to earn a profit whether or not it hurts us, and for that reason they must be monitored closely.